“The Spare Man” Review

A woman and man are standing at a bar on a space ship with stars visible above them dressed in formal attire. The woman is more towards the center of the cover and is wearing a white dress with a blue shawl, and is using a cane. The man is to the right and wearing a suit while leaning on the bar looking at the woman. On the floor to the left of the woman is a small white dog.Written by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published by Tor Books, October 2022
Number of Pages: 384
Completed: April 23, 2023

“With all the glittering banter of 1930s noir, this novel takes class, privilege, and identity theft and wraps them inside a murder mystery. Tesla Crane, heiress to the Crane fortune, and Shalmanseer Steward, a retired private detective, are on their honeymoon cruise from Earth to Mars. When Shal is framed for murder, Tesla has to find the murderer before they try to silence her husband.”

This book fits another of the prompts for the Disability Readathon I’m participating in for April: “Read a book with a person using a mobility aid on the cover” – the main character, Tesla, is using a cane on the cover.

I’m going to be honest and say I preferred Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series over this book. That said I think it’s mostly because the series is a different genre and style. This book is a murder mystery set in the future (2075), while the Lady Astronaut series is an alternate history series set in the 50s through the 70s and some choices made more sense in that series.

There was stuff I did like about the book – most of the characters are great and I did like the disability representation of the main character and her service dog. Her disabilities come from an accident and she’s still in the adjustment period so she’s still adjusting to her new reality for the most part. The murder mystery and figuring out what actually happened was interesting – sometimes a little confusing but I think it was meant to be because of how it all worked out. I also like how at the end of her books the author always has a section talking about the science of the book and how she figured things out for the plot.

There was one element of the book that stuck out like a sore thumb though and it’s the amount of intelligence based insults. I know those are far too ingrained in our society, and it’s not as though all of the other books I’ve read don’t have them too but they became very noticeable in this book. Part of the reason it was so jarring was that the main character went out of her way to call out gender based insults and failure to use pronouns, but then used intelligence based insults themselves or ignored them from another characters. One of the other characters was constantly insulting a third character with some of those insults. It must be said that at the time of reading I wasn’t in the mood for seeing one -ism called out while another was being ignored or used to fight the first one. Especially when the book had disability representation that was well done.